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When Women Were Aliens: The Neglected History of Derivative Marital Citizenship

11 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2012  

Helen Irving

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: July 17, 2012


Between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, in virtually every country in the world, women who married foreign men were stripped of their citizenship, and turned into aliens in their own country. Marital denaturalization laws were supported by the international community until well after the Second World War: single citizenship, family unity, diplomatic convenience, and inter-state comity, were treated as imperatives that overrode women’s independent personal status. Such laws, which expanded at the very time when women were gaining legal and political rights, impacted radically, sometimes tragically, on individual lives, including rendering many thousands of women stateless. This essay gives an account of the emergence and evolution of such laws, with particular reference to Britain and the United States. It provides a ‘snapshot’ of individual cases, and an overview of the international community’s response.

Keywords: citizenship law and history, gender, international law and nationality

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K 33

Suggested Citation

Irving, Helen, When Women Were Aliens: The Neglected History of Derivative Marital Citizenship (July 17, 2012). Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 12/47. Available at SSRN:

Helen Irving (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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